During the 1980s, the United States received about 8 million immigrants, approximately 800,000 per year, including both legal admissions and illegal entrants who later received amnesty and legal residence. The volume has increased in the 1990s, with about 900,000 immigrants arriving each year. Furthermore, over the past 30 years, the source countries of these immigrants to the United States have shifted dramatically, from primarily European countries in the 1950s to primarily Asian and Latin American countries in the 1990s. Now is a good time to take stock of immigration statistics—which indicate the number, relative size, and characteristics of immigrant populations, as well as how they fare after entry into the United States.
Interest in Immigration Issues
Long-standing interest in immigration issues and in improving data related to immigration in the United States is shared by the National Research Council, specifically the Committee on National Statistics and the Committee on Population; several federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Bureau of the Census; and the social science research community involved in immigration studies. This confluence of interest led to a request in 1992 from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development to the National Research Council committees to conduct a workshop on U.S. immigration statistics.
Previous assessments of immigration statistics have been made by several researchers. Hutchinson (1958) reviewed statistics on international migration to the United States, noting the slow pace of improvement. Tomasi and Keely's (1975) volume on international migration includes useful discussion of U.S. data issues. Kraly (1979) provides an excellent review of the various sources of immigration data and their limitations. This report emphasizes an assessment of current immigration data; the assessments noted above provide useful reviews of historical immigration data, as well as topics of international migration not discussed in detail here (i.e., emigration data).
An earlier National Research Council report, by a panel of the Committee on National Statistics (Levine et al., 1985), made a number of important recommendations for improving data for the study of immigration. In particular, the panel recommended that the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service:
- Issue an explicit statement stating that the collection, cumulation, and tabulation of reliable, accurate, and timely statistical information on immigration is a basic responsibility and inherent mission of the Immigration and Naturalization Service;
- Establish a Division of Immigration Statistics, reporting directly to an associate commissioner or an equivalent level;
- Direct and implement the recruitment of a full complement of competent, trained professionals with statistical capabilities and subject-area expertise;
- Establish an advisory committee of experts in the use and production of immigration-related data, to advise the associate commissioner and the proposed Division of Immigration Statistics about needs for new or different types of data, to review existing data and data collection methodology, and to provide the Immigration and Naturalization Service with independent evaluation of its statistical products, plans, and performance;
- Establish formal liaison with other federal and state agencies involved in the collection and analysis of immigration-and emigration-related data; and
- Initiate a review of all data-gathering activities to eliminate duplication, minimize burden and waste, review specific data needs and uses, improve question wording and format design, standardize definitions and concepts, document methodologies, introduce statistical standards and procedures, and promote efficiencies in the use of staff and resources.
Several subsequent legislative mandates relied on recommendations contained in the 1985 report, including the one for the establishment of a Statistics Division at the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
With the 1985 report as a point of departure, participants in the workshop were asked to first assess the needs for data collection on immigration and immi-
grant adjustment.1 This task was intended to help the Immigration and Naturalization Service meet its mandate to assess the impact of immigration on the U.S. population; it was also intended to aid the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in assessing the data needs of the research community. In particular, that agency asked that a portion of the workshop discussion be devoted to consideration of a longitudinal survey of immigrants, a type of survey that some researchers have advocated in recent years. A second task was to discuss the agenda for immigration research and to consider priorities for future data. In planning the workshop, the committees hoped to highlight the important topic of immigration policy and research.
Shifts in Immigration Patterns
The age of mass migration to the United States is not over. In the 30 years since the United States discarded nationality quotas in 1965, 14 to 15 million immigrants have been legally admitted—and the numbers are growing. An annual average of 450,000 immigrants were admitted in the 1970s, almost 800,000 in the 1980s (taking both legal and illegal immigrants into account), and about 700,000 in 1992.
None of these figures includes the more than 3 million applicants for legalization from illegal aliens under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The 1986 IRCA legislation offered amnesty (through a general legalization and a program for special agricultural workers) to illegal aliens who were residing in the United States. The legislation also contained a number of provisions aimed at reducing illegal immigration, including an increase in Border Patrol activities. The effect of IRCA immigrants on the immigration figures began to be felt in fiscal 1989 and continued through the early 1990s. In fiscal 1991, for example, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reported the admission of more than 700,000 legal immigrants and over 1,100,000 legalizations through the 1986 act (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1992:20). The figures quoted above also do not reflect the provisions of the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased authorized immigration, especially for business and job-related visa categories, beginning in 1992.
The Immigration Act of 1965 changed the primary focus of the criteria for admission from nationality to family reunification, with a smaller emphasis on needed skills. This focus on family contributed substantially to the increase in admissions. The 1990 act established a "pierceable cap" on family-sponsored
immigrants at 520,000 annually, and also increased the number of occupationally related visas from 58,000 to 155,000. At the same time, the principle of family reunification operated as well for the skill-oriented categories: of 116,000 skilled-oriented immigrant visas awarded in fiscal 1992, only about 60,000 went to skilled principals; the balance went to spouses and dependent children. Finally, there has been an additional source of increased immigration: refugees, particularly from Cuba and Southeast Asia, have added large numbers to the total admissions during the past 25 years. About 870,000 of a total of 2,100,000 refugees, entered the United States from these areas between 1961 and 1993.
Not only has the size of immigration cohorts changed; so have their national origins. Prior to 1965, arrivals from many countries in Europe dominated immigration flows to the United States. For the early decades of this century, Asians were excluded from entering the United States as immigrants. As late as the 1950s, Europeans (including immigrants from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) represented 53 percent of immigrant flows to the United States. At that time, Latin American and Caribbean immigrants accounted for 25 percent and Asians for only 6 percent of admissions. In the 1980s, Asians made up 43 percent of admissions, Latin Americans and Caribbeans 40 percent, and Europeans only 11 percent.
Perceptions of the Past
America has honored its immigrant tradition, paying homage to a "golden age of immigration" at the turn of the century. In 1992, the doors of the immigration buildings on Ellis Island in New York City were once again opened, this time as a museum in memory of the millions of immigrants who first entered the United States through that port. The perception of past immigration has a patina of nostalgia about immigrants, ethnic neighborhoods, and hard-working parents who encouraged their children's education, leading to social mobility. As these images are being enshrined, however, some observers point out the conditions of past immigrants as chronicled and photographed by Jacob Riis and others of his time, whose photographs showed the poverty and hardship of immigrant life.
It is also important to remember that the dominant view at the turn of the century was that social problems were caused by the existence of immigrant-based ethnic ghettos. Fears about the impact of foreigners on the "American way of life" led to adoption of the national origin quota system of the 1920s, which was revised by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (it still based national origin quotas on the 1920 census but set a minimum of 100 and a maximum of 2,000 each for Asian countries) and was finally abolished by the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965. A shift in the perception of a roman-
ticized past period of immigration to the social problems of current immigration has affected the public's judgment about the desirability of large-scale immigration. Perceptions do not always accurately reflect the contributions of immigration to national well-being, or to the problems that are attributed to it. Much of the current debate about mass immigration involves public perceptions more than social facts.
Effects of Immigration
As a result of declining U.S. fertility and the increase in legal immigrant and refugee entries, legal immigration now accounts for a substantial number of new additions to the population. However, immigrants are not evenly distributed across the country. Some regions, states, counties, and cities are very heavily affected by immigration, and with quite differing results. In each area, the effects seem to be functions of the general condition of the economy and society, the number and tempo of immigrant admissions, immigrant characteristics (refugee status, education and occupational skill level, culture, and other factors related to employment and adaptability), and the immigrant-receiving traditions of the community.
Because immigration varies in volume and type by communities and regions, it requires detailed study in order to disentangle the various impacts. Detailed local and specific studies, as well as overall studies of immigration to the United States, are needed. The impact of immigration is more important for some communities than for others. For example, San Diego and Los Angeles counties are currently weighing the cost of immigrants, with the implicit conclusion that immigration is affecting those communities adversely to a larger degree than other communities.
Establishing Data Priorities
The purpose of the workshop was to assess and identify needs for immigration data to answer two fundamental questions: (1) How are immigrants adjusting? (2) What effects are immigrants having on U.S. society? Immigration policy issues involve four key areas of inquiry:
- the characteristics of immigrant-sending countries,
- the characteristics of the United States as an immigrant-receiving country,
- characteristics of immigrants themselves, and
- the social and economic effects of immigration.
These four areas illuminate the important immigration policy issues that provide an organizing framework for the assessment of priorities for data needs presented in this report.
The number and characteristics of immigrants entering the United States are affected not only by U.S. immigration policy, but also by other factors in the United States and in the sending countries. Job opportunities, educational aspirations, the presence of suitable ethnic communities, and family ties affect the decision to migrate. Factors in the sending country, such as political or social unrest, may also influence migration decisions.
The proximity of sending countries and the ease of movement to the United States are also factors, along with language and cultural similarities. Immigrant characteristics are also influenced by the ability to afford to emigrate to the United States, familiarity with U.S. society, and perceptions about success in adapting to a new country.
Characteristics of the United States and the sending countries also influence the adjustment of immigrants after arrival. The receptivity of the local community, ethnic and family supports, job and school opportunities, health and social service availability all influence the adjustment of immigrants. Immigrant behavior may also be influenced by family and friendship ties to the country of origin and by economic, social, and political events there. Such events may lead immigrants to send money back: conversely, opportunities in the United States may lead immigrants to borrow money from family or friends in the country of origin.
Immigrant characteristics and behavior have effects on U.S. society. The flow of immigrants into and out of the United States occurs through a variety of pathways, both legal and illegal, and together with their characteristics defines the impact of immigrants at one point in time. Among the most important characteristics for study are the country of origin (including language and cultural heritage), age at entry, reason for migrating, legal status, occupational and education skills, English language proficiency, and social and economic resources.
Both immigrant characteristics and country characteristics (the country of origin as well as the local community of U.S. settlement) have a major influence on the adjustment of immigrants and their children—a ''generational'' adjustment. We include consideration of the offspring of immigrants in this report in order to stress the need for a long-term view of the social impact of immigration. Immigrants themselves affect society only during their lifetimes, but subsequent generations make a more lasting impact.
Immigrant adjustment includes changes in individual behavior, such as cultural patterns (English language use and ability, religion, food preferences), social and economic achievements (labor force participation, job skills, education, income), family status (number of children, intermarriage), health and social well-being, cultural and political values, and participation in social and political organizations. The behavior can vary widely among immigrants and can differ markedly among individuals as they adjust to a new society.
The policy questions that frame the workshop discussion span six broad
topic areas: demographic change, families and households, labor markets, public services, institutions, and culture.
Major policy questions include: (1) What is the impact of immigration on the absolute and relative levels of population growth? (2) What is the effect of immigration on the age and sex distribution of the population? (3) What is the influence of immigration on the racial and ethnic composition of the population? (4) What is the impact of immigration on the geographic distribution of the population?
Major policy questions include: (1) How does immigration affect the family and household structure of immigrants? (2) How do family networks affect subsequent immigration (through the family reunification provisions of U.S. immigration visas or through the encouragement of immigration through other legal or illegal entry)? (3) How does immigration affect subsequent marriage and childbearing, including the behavior of immigrant children? (4) How does immigration affect variables of particular importance for the family, including the health of immigrants and their family members, care for the elderly, labor force involvement, remittances, public assistance, and education?
Important policy questions include: (1) How well do immigrants perform in the U.S. economy? (2) What characteristics of immigrants indicate those who adapt most successfully and can make a contribution to economic growth? (3) What impact do immigrants have on the earnings and employment opportunities of native-born citizens? (4) Are there native-born workers who are negatively affected and others who are positively affected by immigration?
- on public social services if they are eligible. The extent of these contributions and demands has an impact on the larger society through shifts in the distribution of the tax burden throughout the population; they also may have differential effects on local and state governments. In addition, the public services delivered to immigrants may play a part in modifying the effects they have on other social outcomes: for example, English language improvement programs may increase their general job skills and income, with ultimate impacts on tax revenues and the economy.
Major policy questions include: (1) What are the public service costs of providing services to immigrant populations relative to their tax contributions? (2) To what extent are the public service needs of immigrants being met? (3) How do public services contribute to the rate of change in the conditions and behavior of immigrants?
- Institutions: The extent to which immigrants are accepted by and participate in the formal and informal institutions and organizations of the United States may effect institutional changes. Immigrant participation in U.S. institutions and organizations is a major indication of assimilation, although their participation often influences the nature, outlook, and activities of institutions. Intragroup hostility or competition are potential problems when new immigrants resist institutional assimilation through the creation and maintenance of separate institutions, and when native-born residents and older immigrants resist the participation of new immigrants in institutions.
Major policy questions include: (1) To what extent do immigrant populations create and maintain "separate" economic, social, and political institutions? (2) How do institutions respond to immigrant populations, especially in schools, churches, and legal systems? (3) How are the characteristics of public institutions related to participation by and tolerance for immigrant populations?
- Culture: When two different cultures come together, each affects the other. Some researchers have referred to a cultural melting pot when these reciprocal influences are complete, with no remaining differences in cultural patterns between the original groups. Or cultural influences may be partial, with some patterns shaved and others retained, creating a cultural mosaic. Culture in the United States has been shaped by many past immigrants, and new immigrants continue to have an impact, both regionally and nationally, resulting in changes in consumption patterns, customs and religious practices, art, and even language. Historically, immigrants, and especially their children, have conformed over time to American culture in such a way that, even though their culture of origin may have an impact on the larger society, American culture has not become unduly segmented. How new waves of immigrants adjust to American culture and the degree to which Americans embrace new cultural diversity will affect the extent to which American culture becomes more diverse or more homogeneous.
Major policy questions include: (1) To what extent and how quickly do immigrant populations conform to American culture? (2) To what extent do
immigrant populations influence American culture? (3) How much do native-born Americans resist the cultural influences of immigrant groups?
Adequacy of Immigration Data
Although data sources are available for studying many issues related to the broad features of current immigration, many of them focus either on all immigrants or on only one or a small number of immigrant groups. Some survey samples include so few foreign-born people that analysis cannot be performed for specific nationality groups. Other data sets are limited to immigrants from one country or from a single region, making comparative studies impossible. Many federal data sources were not designed to study the new immigration flows. Given these circumstances, the workshop held by the two committees represents a major effort to examine current data collection and analysis on immigration; the committees' recommendations about the needed broad, long-term changes in immigration statistics stem from that examination.
Immigration affects a wide variety of social and economic institutions—schools, labor markets, population growth and distribution, and consumer products, to name a few. Data are needed in order to understand better the impact that immigration has on society. For example, in studying the mortality rates of blacks, Samuel Preston noted at the workshop that a critical weakness is the poor quality of immigration data. Such mortality studies require good data by age and sex, including information on immigration by age and sex.
Definition of Terms
A number of terms are used in this report with specific meaning. At the outset, it is useful to distinguish between immigration and immigrants. Most of the federal government's statistics on immigration pertain to the process of applying for entry into the United States and information collected at the time of entry. Once a person has entered the United States—and becomes an immigrant—there are relatively few data sets that capture the immigrant's experiences. The Immigration and Naturalization Service collects data on immigrants if they apply for naturalization, for example. But because typically a naturalization application cannot be made until five years after entrance into the United States, it has virtually no information on immigrants in the crucial years immediately after their arrival.
The processes of movement are described as immigration and emigration. We refer to immigrants as foreign-born people legally moving to the United States and emigrants as U.S. residents who depart to some other country. The use of terms for international migration varies with the country perspective: Mexican immigrants in the United States would be viewed by Mexico as emigrants to the
United States. This report refers to immigrants and emigrants from the point of view of the United States.
The total number of arrivals of immigrants and the departures of emigrants is called gross migration, or the volume of migration. Net migration is the difference between the total arrivals and the total departures.
When large groups of individuals or families migrate together, collective migration occurs. If migration is not in a concerted form, the migration is referred to as individual migration. When the number of migrants is large, it is called mass migration.
We use the term immigrant to refer to a foreign-born person who has established residence in the United States. In speaking of foreign-born people, we make no distinction about their legal status—they may be legal residents, refugees, or undocumented migrants. This use of the term immigrant corresponds to the foreign-born population enumerated in the census. We refer to legal immigrant to indicate that the immigrant is a lawful resident of the United States.
A refugee is usually someone who migrates to the United States as a result of strong pressures to move because continued stay in the country of origin may expose him or her to dangers to life or well-being. In the United States, refugees are on temporary residence status at the time of admission but are eligible for permanent residence after one year. (Refugees are under a special status for their first year; they are not immigrants with permanent lawful residency and are, therefore, treated as "nonimmigrants".)
The process by which immigrants adjust themselves to conditions in the United States is divided into three categories: (1) naturalization, the acquisition of legal citizenship; (2) assimilation, integration into the social structure on terms of equality; and (3) acculturation, the process of relinquishing the customs and values of the country of origin and adopting the broad values of American society. In a society as heterogeneous as the United States, such values cannot be narrowly defined nor characterized as uniform.
We use the term illegal alien or illegal immigrant to refer to a foreign-born person who resides in the United States illegally. Illegal aliens are often described as if they are a homogeneous group. This confuses debate and makes it difficult to consider the ways in which individuals enter into and depart from the illegal alien population. People become illegal aliens in the United States in three primary ways: (1) by illegal entry into the country, (2) by legal entry but staying beyond the authorization period, and (3) by legal entry but violating the terms of entry. Illegal entry into the United States occurs when an individual enters without inspection, usually by crossing the land border into the United States other than through a lawful port of entry. Many people enter by this route from Mexico, and it is a prominent route for those who reside in Mexico but work in the United States.
Analysis of illegal entry into the United States is complicated by the use of border-crossing cards that are issued by the United States to Mexican residents.
Border-crossing cards are usually issued to residents of Mexican border communities who have steady work in Mexico and allow the bearer to visit a limited geographic range inside the United States for up to 72 hours. The cards are intended for routine shopping and visiting; some, however, use the cards to cross into the United States to work. Others who have border-crossing cards enter the United States illegally in order to avoid the lines at the lawful port of entry.
Students can become illegal aliens by overstaying the authorization period of their visa or by working beyond the limits authorized by the student visa. They may enter the United States legally but then continue to reside and work there illegally.
Individuals who enter the United States on a tourist visa but then become illegally employed are the most common example of the third type of illegal alien—those violating the terms of entry.
This report does not discuss various groups of foreign-born people who reside temporarily in the United States with nonimmigrant visas. These categories of people include foreign students, diplomats, and some representatives of international organizations. The workshop discussion, as reflected in this report, centered on legal and illegal immigrant flows for groups with long-term U.S. residence.
Organization of the Report
This report summarizes the key points of the workshop discussions, which are the basis for the committees' recommendations. The volume does not include the workshop papers, nor does it offer a detailed survey of the research literature. Citations are given, however, to surveys of the theoretical and empirical literature.
The first four chapters that follow this introduction summarize the workshop discussion of immigration data needs in four areas of study: immigration trends, the effects of immigration and assimilation, labor force issues, and family and social networks. They include discussion of major research challenges, including topics for further study. Chapter 6 is an overview of the key data needs for immigration research, classified by type of data. Chapter 7 is a discussion of the value of longitudinal studies of immigration. The appendix includes the workshop agenda and participants and a list of the papers presented.